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Doing the Right Things Right

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A How-To Guide for the Modern Leader

Inspired by Peter Drucker's groundbreaking book The Effective Executive, Laura Stack details precisely how 21st-century leaders and managers can obtain profitable, productive results by managing the intersection of two critical values: effectiveness and efficiency.

Effectiveness, Stack says, is identifying and achieving the best objectives for your organization—doing the right things. Efficiency is accomplishing them with the least amount of time, effort, and cost—doing things right. If you're not clear on both, you're wasting your time. As Drucker put it, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Stack's 3T Leadership offers twelve practices that will enable executives to be effective and efficient, grouped into three areas where leaders spend their time: Strategic Thinking, Teamwork, and Tactics. With her expert advice, you'll get scores of new ideas on how you, your team, and your organization can boost productivity.

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12 Chapters

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1 Goals Align Strategy and Objectives

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If your team lacks clear goals, it may as well be a drunken octopus on roller skates. You’ll get just as far. To be efficient and effective, you must set team goals, align them actively with organizational goals, and communicate them to your team.

You’ll also need to regularly reevaluate your progress to ensure you’re on the right path. If you’re not already doing so, consider what course corrections might better serve you. “Strategic planning and goal setting should be linked,” advises Janie Wade, Senior Vice President of Finance for Baylor Scott & White Health. “Everyone on the team should have goals that support the plan and each other. But the plans and the goals have to leave room for the unexpected opportunities that develop.”

Goals also boost team productivity because they sow seeds of hope. They give your team something to strive for, especially if they’re coupled with a positive, nonpunitive environment where you provide valuable feedback on a regular basis. Goals establish promises that you and your team can work toward as you fine-tune performance and boost productivity.

 

2 Change Embrace Innovation and Adaptability

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As the old saying goes, the only real constant is change.

Modern leadership involves more than just telling people what to do. Because you’re responsible for helping the company stay profitable, you have no choice but to embrace change. This keeps your team functional, making them more productive and building the bottom line—and around and around it goes, in a constant cycle of change and growth. Change is good for you as a leader and good for your business. Effective leaders don’t waste energy fighting inevitable change; they search for opportunities to use that change for the company’s advantage.

Change has become essential to the continued growth and development of global business. It stirs things up, cross-fertilizing ideas and aerating the waters of creativity. We may enjoy equilibrium, but inactivity soon sours into stagnation. You can’t afford complacency, because some hungry young company will always be pushing the envelope and trying to steal part of your market share.

 

3 Communication Share Mission, Vision, and Ideas

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Effective communication sets profitable, productive organizations apart from the duds. It can take many forms, but the factors that work best are plain talk, honesty, and cooperation. Your communication must be simple and straightforward, especially when conveying the organization’s mission to employees.

In some cases, particularly when you’re working with other leaders, you also have to know how to butt heads politely and cautiously. You want to sell your ideas to give an advantage not only to your team but also to the organization as a whole.

If you can’t effectively communicate the organization’s mission and your expectations from the very beginning, you’ll get nowhere. Study the art of getting it right the first time, which boils down to communicating with the people involved in whatever project you’re working on in the way they best understand. It’s impossible to be either effective or efficient if your team doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place.

 

4 Decision-Making Resolve and Execute Decisions Promptly

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Motion beats meditation—once you’ve contemplated the situation enough to know what actions to take. Too often, indecision rules in the workplace, because decision-makers fear making mistakes. Yet the occasional mistake is the price of effective decision-making. It’s better to take a wrong turn than no turn at all. You can always change direction to correct an error or to meet a new threat or opportunity head-on. Dithering is neither effective nor efficient, and a successful business leader will avoid it.

In addition to making decisions that push you ahead, you have to decide to fix what’s already wrong in your team or organization. Don’t fall for the belief that disagreement within the team is something you should squelch. Friction can be positive, as long as it lets you see all sides of the story before you make the final decision.

Once you’ve made a decision, act on it. In business, the only thing that really matters is results. You don’t get results until you execute, so trade theory for action and get moving. When you’ve got a rough plan of action in place, move from meditation to motion—and stay in motion until you’re done.

 

5 Environment Build an Open Team Culture

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In a business sense, a “culture” is the social setting in which work takes place. Sometimes it forms spontaneously, evolving out of a set of core values and combining with corporate mission, vision, and basic goals. “Culture” can also be an unwritten set of mutually understood rules, such as “We typically start meetings five minutes late around here.” The efficient, effective executive takes a direct hand in guiding organizational culture, while making a deliberate effort to maintain a positive culture where it already exists.

Work culture in general has recently moved toward increased agility, flexibility, and speed, punctuated by periods of rapid evolution. To get ahead, you can’t fear change. Learn to quickly bounce back when something doesn’t work the way you intend.

Calculated risk is still an important basis of corporate culture, but leaders can no longer calculate all the variables for months before springing into action. Overcollaboration and overcautious decision-making takes more time than businesses can afford. Move from meditation to motion as quickly as possible, making instant changes based on the challenges you run into. You must move swiftly and be ready to change course on the spur of the moment, while realizing that flexibility rules the day.

 

6 Performance Forge a Results-Oriented Team

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In today’s sped-up business environment, style is less likely than ever to triumph over substance. Results—not just staying busy—define productivity, while acting as a benchmark for new efforts. And producing results is at the heart of what it means to be efficient and effective.

The best workplace teams are so close-knit and results-oriented that productivity is a given. Such cohesion depends on trust and mutual respect, factors that naturally boost productivity. Everyone on the team must act as integral and active parts of that team; you can’t allow cubicle hermits and slackers. Move forward with positive energy, developing the talents of your team members so you’ll inevitably enhance performance.

Oddly enough, a few rough edges can help you generate the creativity and innovation that boost productivity to even higher levels. But be careful to manage any disagreements between team members that result, so they don’t spiral out of control.

There may be times when you’ll have to be ruthless to revitalize your team, clearing out true “deadwood”—specifically, negative attitudes and unprofitable processes—rather than people. This might require a shot of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), focusing on the big picture of team productivity. So gear up for success through a commitment to excellence, focused effort, and intelligent planning.

 

7 Motivation Harness Creativity and Loyalty

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Individual engagement and empowerment drive workplace productivity, even at the team level. Effective leaders must in ternalize the factors motivating their team members, so they can use their tools in the best way possible to boost productivity.

As noted earlier, emphasize the value of your team members’ contributions, showing them how everyone contributes to the success of the entire team. Invite your team on this journey by motivating them and empowering them as your partners in success. Ask for and consider their ideas and opinions.

Take hold of your own creativity, finding ways to harness it and passing those ideas on to your team members. And never lose sight of the fact that they are your teammates; you’re a team member, not just a leader.

Always seek employee loyalty. This won’t come naturally, so encourage it through basic managerial tactics, avoiding micro management, and being tough but fair. Most importantly, demonstrate your gratitude for a job well done and encourage team trust, tightening team cohesion at every turn.

 

8 Growth Emphasize Continuous Improvement

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We all have to grow into our jobs, whether we’re bike messengers or CEOs. Once you’ve built and shaped your team members into a vehicle for true productivity, focus on finding ways to optimize their performance through further growth. Effective, efficient execution is not a fixed destination; it is a moving target that can only be hit consistently if you and your team are seeking ways to constantly improve.

Growing together as a team and growing to become a team creates cohesion—with individual team members interlocking smoothly into one efficient entity like the parts of a good machine or jigsaw puzzle. A mature team develops features that naturally boost productivity. But the effort starts with you, the executive—whatever your job title. You can facilitate this process and avoid problems by understanding not only how you think but also how your team members think.

Among other things, a quality leader accepts both credit and blame when it’s due. Leaders act on constructive criticism without overreacting to the pain that accompanies it, because they know it can offer insight into where growth is needed. And most who deliver such criticism are trying to help, however clueless or hurtful their words might seem to you at the moment. Using your emotional intelligence while balancing your head and heart serves you well here.

 

9 Value Focus on High-Impact Activities

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How an executive does his or her personal work, and the milieu in which it occurs, is one of the most powerful aspects of managing that intersection of efficiency and effectiveness.

We know that time management determines how well we manage not only our own operational, day-to-day responsibilities, but that of our teams as well—and most of us do try to make sure we handle it in a manner that’s both efficient and effective. But the blunt reality is that most leaders don’t do it well.

Many of us waste more time than we should by trying to multitask and letting other people steal our attention a minute at a time. That’s why we’re wise to limit our activities to those that maximize productivity at the team level. But it all starts with your personal efforts.

People say this so often that it’s a cliché, and you’re probably sick of hearing it. But I’m saying it anyway. Time is your most precious resource. We all get a finite amount, and once it’s gone, there’s no resupply. So you have to use what you have to maximize your impact.

 

10 Technology Master Data Handling and Workflow

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How executives organize their personal work matters more now than it ever has. Things as simple as efficient time management, organization, and email processing help you save time and sharpen the knife of effectiveness. Do you know how to triage your time, abandoning and delegating tasks until all that remains is the lean, profitable meat of your job? Even something as simple as how you handle information can smooth your workflow, saving you more of that most precious of resources: time.

Technology has been a blessing in this regard, but it’s a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s helped make modern workers more productive. The cloud computing phenomenon alone has simplified access to anywhere/anytime information, letting us do our work no matter where we are.

Conversely, technology can be tyrannical. Not only do you risk Schlimmbesserung (the effort to make something better that actually makes it worse; in this case, the flood of new work triggered by supposed timesaving inventions), it sometimes makes it easier for others to steal proprietary information. You may also become trapped by your technology, unable to survive without it.

 

11 Agility Maximize Speed and Flexibility

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Strength in the post–Great Recession environment is based on agility. Effective, efficient execution demands it. Agility means responding to change of any kind with speed and flexibility, whether it’s a new client demand or a paradigm shift. Handling new challenges on the fly, swerving onto a new course, stopping suddenly, and reversing direction—it’s all in a day’s work for the modern business professional.

The theme of flexibility has run through this entire book: triage tasks, embrace change, avoid techno-traps, improve continually, and facilitate tasks, to name just a few.

All that really matters in terms of productivity are results—another of this book’s primary themes. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in or how many to-do tasks you scratch off your list; what matters is whether you’ve produced at a high level or not. No one can afford to just serve time until the end of the day, or the end of a career. Nor can you allow paralysis or procrastination to slow you down.

 

12 Balance Sustain Your Physical and Mental Health

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In this last chapter, it all comes down to you and what you personally contribute to team productivity. In order to be an effective, efficient leader, you have to take care of yourself at least as well as you take care of your team, by maintaining balance in your life.

You might think that the need for a decent work/life balance would be obvious to anyone, but white-collar workers tend to be more ambitious and driven than most. We forget that brainwork can be just as tiring as physical labor. We believe we can push ourselves longer than our blue-collar brethren, who are more likely to appreciate the need to decompress and recharge. Sometimes, this results in overwhelm, which can lead to a workflow breakdown you have to rebuild from. Such a recovery can take a while.

It’s better not to go there in the first place! Don’t work yourself to death; what’s the point? Maintaining your health must be a priority if you want to sustain true, long-term productivity. Diet, exercise, sleep, taking enough rest breaks, and going on vacation when you should will keep you at the top of your game.

 

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